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Commentary: Today’s operational environment demands physical fitness

KENTUCKY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- I recently had the opportunity to complete a Combat Airman Skills Training course at Camp Guernsey, Wyo., in preparation for a six-month deployment to Southwest Asia.

The course was the most practical -- and beneficial -- training I've ever received in my 24 years in the Air National Guard, encompassing such useful subjects as Humvee driver certification, combat communications, land navigation, vehicle roll-over extraction, field medical care and tactical ground movements.

Instruction was built around a succession of field-training exercises designed to foster competence in a broad range of combat skills. One day, I expended nearly 200 rounds of live ammunition during M-16 full-automatic-burst enemy-suppression fire. Another day, I navigated four kilometers of steep, rugged terrain using nothing more than a compass and a map. At the end of my training, I and my fire team "killed" multiple enemy combatants during a ground-hugging, dirt-crawling firefight that epitomized the fog of war.

It was excellent training. And it reminded me once again that what we do in the armed services is deadly serious business.

It's easy for many of us who serve primarily in support roles to forget that we're all fundamentally warriors. That's especially true now, given that we no longer live in routine times. 9-11 changed everything. Combat is not the remote abstraction it once was, and Airmen from every career field are being deployed in harm's way from Afghanistan to Iraq. Now, more than ever, any one of us could be called upon to defend against enemy combatants in the most personal of ways.

We must be ready.

Readiness clearly includes warrior-development courses like the excellent training I received at Camp Guernsey. But it also includes things for which we must take personal responsibility -- including our own physical fitness.

I have never been more cognizant of this fact than when I was in Wyoming, where I and more than 100 of my Air Force brothers and sisters faced the physically draining task of conducting daily combat operations while carrying close to 100 pounds of gear on our backs.

Given the certainty of future Air Expeditionary Force deployments and the potentially high stakes Airmen face while deployed to the U.S. Central Command area of operations, each of us must make physical fitness a top priority. We owe ourselves, our families and our fellow Airmen nothing less than total commitment to the mission, wherever it may take us.

Readiness is the order of the day.